"Rings on a tree tell a story," Franny Parker tells Lucas Dunn. "They tell you about its seasons, if they've been plentiful or not." So far, the rings of Franny's life have been marked by her family, their farm, their dusty little Oklahoma town – all of it so familiar. But in the summer of her thirteenth year, the Dunns move in next door, harboring painful secrets. From the moment Franny meets Lucas, the two begin a friendship that introduces Franny to the large world beyond her barnyard fence. As their town endures one of the harshest droughts in decades, Franny learns that those in need are not just those others you hear about in church or school; they can be injured wildlife or even the family next door. When her own family suffers a loss, Franny must find the courage to look beyond her sadness to aid a friend in need.
This tender, beautifully written debut novel is the story of a summer full of promises and pain, a season that, although one of the hardest in Franny Parker's life, turns out to be plentiful.
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|File size:||1 MB|
|Age Range:||10 - 13 Years|
About the Author
HANNAH ROBERTS MCKINNON lives in Sherman, Connecticut, with her husband and two daughters.
Hannah Roberts McKinnon grew up in Fairfield County, Connecticut, writing about and drawing animals. The daughter of an English teacher, she spent her early childhood nights falling asleep to the click-clack of her father’s typewriter and adopted his love of words and literature. She attended her first young author’s conference in Mrs. Myers’ third-grade class with her debut story “Rodents on the Range,” a hamster Western, and has not been the same since.
Hannah attended Connecticut College, graduating with a B.A. in English and elementary education. She later traveled to Australia, and earned her M.A. and sixth-year degree in education from Flinders University of South Australia.
After sharing her love of children’s literature with her elementary school students for ten years, Hannah sat down to write her first novel, sneaking writing time during her daughter Grace’s naps. Her second novel, The Properties of Water, is slated to come out in 2010. Hannah is working diligently on her next book, once again stealing minutes to write, this time during the naps of her daughter Finley. She lives in Connecticut with her family and two fine dogs.
Read an Excerpt
When Grandma Rae Parker stole me away to the preacher on the morning of my kidnapped christening, she told him, "Bless this one just a mite bit more, if you will, dear reverend. She may be a Parker, but she's got her mother's look in the eye." For that fact I am proud, because what Grandma Rae didn't understand was that any trait shared with my mother was already blessing enough.
Daddy says Mama is part wolf. Mama's love has teeth. Like the wolf who carries her pups real gentle in her mouth, then curls her lips back to show a sharp mouthful when she feels the need to be protective. That's how Mama is with her pack. And that's what Grandma Rae never understood.
Now about the kidnapping, I don't remember any of it, being just a tiny baby at the time. I've got to rely on the story as Mama tells it, in a quiet moment before she tucks me in. Or as Daddy tells it at the dinner table, his eyes crinkling with laughter.
Grandma Rae, being who she is, thought she was doing a kind thing in sneaking my baby self to the preacher like that. Of course, Mama and Daddy didn't know. They thought I was safe asleep in my crib down the hall. They were in the kitchen making pancakes, with no intention of having me christened on that day or any other day, according to Mama, so I can imagine they were none too pleased. But Grandma Rae wouldn't hear of raising a baby without the Lord's official blessing, and said it was bad enough Daddy had gone and married Mama, who was what she called a free spirit. So that balmy summer morning she put on her Sunday best, and she took me off to church. All a secret, until Mama got a feeling she should put down her pancake and go check my crib. The mother wolf has instincts.
By the time they figured out where I was, I was christened. Of course that was a long time ago. It's what you'd call a family story, one that may not have started out too funny, but has sort of smoothed out its hard lines over the years, each voice that tells it wearing down the jagged edges like wind on a mountain. We can laugh when we tell it now; the story's gotten so it's not so sharp when we hold it. These days when we recall it Mama just shakes her head and laughs in a light way that ripples like water. "It was a gesture, Franny," she tells me. "Sometimes even the kindest ones get boxed up wrong and arrive on your front porch in pieces. You've just got to try to remember what it started out as, is all."
* * *
I finally understood what Mama meant the summer of my thirteenth year. That summer there were many good intentions that turned out just fine, and quite a few that turned out all wrong. Like the Fire Department's Fourth of July bonfire. The whole town gathered at the swimming hole, ready for a night of barbecue, toasted marshmallows, the works. But there would be no fire. Hours later, those sticks were just smolder and smoke. Kids cried, and the firemen held up their hands in apology. That was the picnic where we all ate our s'mores cold and hard. The firemen must've felt awful bad 'cause the next week they held a redo. And boy, was it! You could roast your marshmallow from fifty feet back. Finally they had to call in one of the trucks and hose down the barbecue. But no one complained. Everyone ate their charcoaled hot dogs in their soggy buns. We knew the firemen had tried their best. Mama was right about good intentions. This is the first thing you need to know.
The second thing is the importance of family. Our family is very close, and by that I mean that some of us are close in how much we like each other, and some of us are just close in geography. Grandma Rae says it makes no difference. "Franny," she says, "family is all you've got." On the walls of her buttercream parlor hang pictures of Daddy's Oklahoma roots. Deep roots, back to the first settlements in the Cimarron Valley. Grandma likes to refer to those pictures often, especially the ones where skinny-legged farm kids stand like poles, hands crossed stiffly in front of them. Very respectful, she tells us. Personally, I think those kids look miserable. But I like looking at my people.
Only a bike ride away from Grandma's is our farmhouse, with its crooked porch swing that's never empty for more than a minute, and Mama's flowers busting out of the shrubs that line our porch. Out of control, as Grandma Rae says. In the back, Daddy's vegetable garden rolls down our sloping yard to the river, and by August, when it's close to bursting, it unravels itself, leading a parade of tomato and pepper and squash right to the water's edge. In the fall, we keep an extra close eye on the pumpkin vines so we don't lose a good jack-o'-lantern down the river. It's happened before. Across the way is the red barn where my chestnut pony, Snort, lives, and by it the old silo leans toward the fields where Daddy likes to bird-watch, almost like it's pointing to our well-traveled route into the hills. My little brother, Ben, and I liked to lose ourselves in those fields, though it seemed a little harder to get lost each summer as I got older.
Finally, you need to know that summer is a state of mind. Picture the way it looks on a person: a sticky ice cream mustache, a late-afternoon hammock dream, a gauzy dress rolled loosely at the knee. Summer has a mood different than any other season, and it sort of infects people. Maybe it's the hazy afternoons that go on and on, or the too-sweet lemonade, or the full-bellied moons that hang extra low in the sky, but I've noticed that kids and grownups are under a bit of a spell come summer. It usually strikes around July, and you can always tell when it starts. People act just a little crazy: gardening in the hot sun, wading into a farmer's stream, declaring love beneath dark windows. Mama calls it summer fever. And that year the fever started on the same day a blue truck rolled into the neighbors' driveway, the first Friday of July, beyond our red barn.
No turtles at the table!" Sidda shrieked.
"But he loves you! L-O-V-E loves you!" Ben giggled, dangling his pet turtle, George, over Sidda's plate.
"Mom, make him stop!"
I covered my ears before I even reached the kitchen.
"Well, look what the cat dragged in!" Daddy said by way of greeting me. He handed over the last piece of bacon with a wink.
"All right, everyone, what's the plan?" Mama asked. She pulled a pencil from the thick tangles of her curly hair.
"I'm off to the pool," Sidda announced, fussing over the pink skirt of her new bathing suit. Even though my sister was just a year older than me, she was a professional teenager.
"Well, I'm off to the bank," Daddy said, gathering up the morning newspaper. "After I stop by the river bend. I think that egret has an egg in her nest." His eyes flashed with excitement. Daddy was a loan officer at Morton Savings, but most people in town called him the Bird Man. He never left home without his binoculars.
Ben peered at his scrambled eggs suspiciously. "Is this egret?"
"Of course not," Mama replied with a smile. "It's dinosaur."
Ben's eyes widened. "Cool! T. rex for breakfast." And then he stood on his chair and abruptly launched into his day of friends and swimming lessons and peanut butter sandwiches and more friends, which basically boiled down to one word. Camp.
"Whew!" Mama laughed, pretending to wipe her forehead with exhaustion. "You are the busiest five-year-old in town!"
Ben nodded proudly. "It's a tough job," he said, reaching for another pancake.
Mama turned her smile on me. "How 'bout you, Franny?" she asked.
I shrugged. "Just taking care of the patients," I said.
Mama nodded her approval. In June I'd started a bit of a makeshift hospital for injured animals in our backyard barn. Just like Mama, I was a lifelong animal lover, and it seemed I had a special knack for crossing paths with broken-winged birds or orphaned mouse babies. It had turned into quite a project for the whole family, except for Sidda, of course.
"I have an idea," Ben whispered, reaching into his overalls pocket. "Babysit George and Martha." He placed a second turtle right on Sidda's plate.
"Eew!" she shrieked.
"You mean turtle-sit?" I asked.
"It'll only cost you fifty cents," Ben stated. He clapped his hands as George climbed slowly over Sidda's toast.
"Ben," Daddy said, "I believe you're supposed to pay the person who does the sitting."
Mama pulled Ben down by his overalls and smacked a big kiss on my head as she swept up his lunch box and the loose turtles in one hand.
Ben caught my arm in a sticky-milk grip. "Okay, okay. I'll only charge you twenty cents. Please, Franny?"
Sidda smirked. "She's got no plans. Other than her stinky critters."
"How would you know?" I asked, watching them stand from the table.
"I'm sure Franny has all kinds of excitement planned," Dad said, grabbing his car keys.
"Don't forget to feed them lunch," Ben told me, as he placed his turtles back in their bin. "You'll have to dig up worms. Big, fat ones."
Mama smiled sympathetically from the doorway. "I'm dropping Ben and Sidda off, then going shopping. No riding Snort until Daddy or I get home, right?"
I nodded glumly. The Parker Pony Rules of Safety. I'd heard them for years, and had yet to break one. Helmet, boots, grownup. Check, check, check.
"I believe these are for you," Sidda said as she dropped a plastic bin at my feet with a disgusted thud. I peered at the two turtles inside. They were carefully nestled on a bed of damp moss, rocks, and leaves placed around the plastic perimeter. Ben's true loves.
Dad was wrong, I thought. No exciting plans for me.
Until I heard the crunch of tires on gravel.
I was ankle-deep in river mud, on worm patrol for Ben's turtles, when I heard it. Peering up over the riverbank, I caught sight of a faded blue Ford pickup truck veering left, where the driveway split to the neighbors' empty cabin. It had been empty over a year. Now, the truck rolled to a stop and the doors swung open on either side.
Woo, woo, woof! Jax, our yellow Lab, sprang off our porch and loped across the yard.
"Get back here, Jax!" I hollered, clambering out of the riverbed after him. He looked over his shoulder as if to say, I know I'm a bad dog, but I just can't help it. I chased him next door as a woman lowered the tailgate with a bang and began pulling boxes off the truck. Big boxes, like the kind that mean you plan to stay awhile.
"Lucas, come help," she called. In response Jax leaped up and licked her nose.
"Well, you're not Lucas," she said to him. She smiled at me, pushing at the long hair piled on her head, all wispy. Pretty. I smiled back.
"That's Jax," I said, reaching out to shake hands. It was then I realized I was still holding a worm. There it was, wriggling in my hand, right under her nose. Not knowing what else to do, I stuck the worm in my pocket and shrugged.
"Sorry about that. I'm Franny."
She laughed, and to my surprise she shook my wormy hand anyway.
"Did we interrupt your fishing?"
I looked at my dirty feet, feeling shy. "Oh, no. The worm's for my little brother."
The woman frowned.
"For his pet turtles," I explained.
"Ah, well, it looks like a good juicy one. I'm Lindy. And this here," she said, pointing to a boy climbing out of the cab, "is Lucas."
The first thing I noticed about Lucas Dunn was his eyes. They were gray-blue, like the stones Ben collects in the stream. They were cool and watery, and for just a moment they made me feel a little sad. His hair was light like Lindy's and he was tall. He looked down at my muddy toes and smiled. Suddenly I felt foolish standing there like a kid, saying nothing.
I sucked in my breath. "I'm Franny."
"Short for Frances?" Lucas asked.
"Francesca," I said, blushing. "It's my aunt's name."
"Nice." And he hopped onto the tailgate and began rummaging through boxes.
"Where are you from?" I asked Lindy.
"Oh, here and there," she said, taking down a box Lucas handed her.
I brought them lemonade while they unpacked, stacking the boxes on the dusty front porch of the cabin. They didn't have a lot, but what they did have was interesting. There was a heavy potting wheel, which took a lot of careful maneuvering to unload, that Lindy said I could try. And a small square kiln with a dented lid. And several boxes of clay she opened to show me. Red like the desert.
"I'm a potter," she explained, showing me her fingernails, dry and red like the clay.
"My mother's an artist," I told her. "Her hands are a different color every day."
Besides the pottery supplies, there was a giant box of books, barely stuck together with tape. Novels spilled out of the top, like they were leaping off the truck.
"My boy sure likes to read," Lindy said.
"Me, too," I told her, watching Lucas out of the corner of my eye.
In no time Lindy was pulling the last box off the truck. "Thanks for the lemonade, Franny. Come by for a spin on the potting wheel." And she disappeared into the cabin. Lucas followed, tossing a book in the air.
"Francesca, catch." And then he, too, disappeared into the little cabin. I looked down at the worn cover in my hand. The Yearling.
* * *
"Yay!" Ben shouted, when I announced we had new neighbors that evening before dinner. "Maybe there's a boy like me. Maybe he likes turtles!"
"Let's hope not," Sidda said, thunking down a dinner plate by my new book. "Move your junk, Franny, so I can set the table."
"Now, Sid," Mama warned. She set the leftover squash soup on the stove and turned her attention to unpacking the shopping bags strewn across the kitchen floor.
"There is a boy," I told Sidda, whisking The Yearling away. "About our age."
This sparked Sidda's attention, and now she was suddenly Miss Manners. "Well let's have them over! We are neighbors, after all." She finished with the plates and started on the silverware, pausing to admire her reflection in a giant soupspoon.
"So, you've met them?" Daddy asked, joining us in the kitchen.
"Yeah, Franny, how do you know?" Sidda asked, narrowing her eyes.
"It's just two of them, Lucas and Lindy." I turned to Sidda. "Lucas is the one who gave me the book." Her eyes widened.
"Good. There's a boy and he likes turtles." Ben nodded.
"We don't know that, Ben!" Sidda snapped.
"Well, it'll be good to have a new neighbor," Mama said. "Did they say where they came from?"
I shrugged. For all her talking, it was the one thing Lindy Dunn hadn't said.
Dad took over the groceries, and Mama carried a bag of new paints over to her easel in the family room, dumping them into her art bin.
Ben reached for a blue one. "Wow, aquamarine! I bet the turtles would love to be aquamarine!" he declared.
Sidda scoffed. "You are not painting those disgusting turtles!" "But they're painted turtles!" He waved the tube at her.
"That's their name, Ben. Just a stupid name. It does not mean they are supposed to be painted aquamarine!" Sidda argued. Her hands were on her hips now.
I poked Ben, trying not to giggle. He was a master at stirring Sidda up.
"Mom," she complained, "tell him he cannot paint the turtles aquamarine."
Mama was unpacking canvases now. "Ben," she warned, but I could see the grin through her wavy hair.
"Okay, okay," he groaned, grabbing a tube of red. "Then how about magenta?"
Early Monday morning, I was in the barn grooming Snort when a freckled face popped over the stall door.
"What page are you on?" Pearl Jones's wild red hair stood on end and Snort reared back in fright.
"Easy, boy," I said. "It's just Pearl." Pearl was my best and oldest friend, but her wild hair and sudden appearances never failed to startle the pony, or the family, for that matter.
The barn was the only place to escape the heat, and I'd spent the morning tucked in a corner of Snort's dark stall with The Yearling. Snort didn't mind.
"Want to ride?" I asked.
Pearl's eyes narrowed and she stared at the book resting on the stall door. "You didn't answer the question."
"Oh, Pearl, not again," I said with a sigh.
The summer reading frenzy had begun last month. Poor Pearl. Her mother had a hand in this, I knew. The Aubree Library began its annual summer reading contest the day school let out, and Mrs. Jones's eye was always on the lookout for a prize: in this case, $100 and a tall gold trophy for the kid who read the most books. Pearl, for being such a shy and reasonable girl, had the misfortune of a not-so-shy and rather unreasonable mother.
Excerpted from "Franny Parker"
Copyright © 2009 Hannah Roberts McKinnon.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Wow! What a read! I am a teacher of middle school students, and a mother of three. This wonderful gem of a book came to us as a gift from my daughter's friend. Franny is a bold, courageous 13 year old girl who lives a perfect life in a perfect family. Until Lucas Dunn moves in next door. The two become close friends, and Franny begins to feel herself trusting this kind and handsome new stranger. Together they work to rescue wild animals in need during the harsh summer drought that impacts their rural Oklahoma town. But Lucas is keeping a dark secret, one that threatens Franny, her family, and Lucas himself. Does she have the courage to speak up for what she knows is right, even if it means betraying a friend she loves? Her crazy friend Pearl will keep you laughing out loud, and is the perfect sidekick, providing a wonderful depth of humor to the story. Franny's family is equally entertaining. Her 'professional teenager' sister Sidda allows us to view the complexities of teenage sister relationships, while her mischievious little brother Ben will keep you smiling at his playful antics. I loved how the story detailed the family relationships and the bonds of friendships, who often become our family. The animal characters are scene stealers, providing a sense of the fragility of life and the beauty of it. Animal lovers will adore this story. McKinnon got great reviews on this, and I see why. Her writing is beautiful, descriptive and sensitive to a tough topic. She made me laugh and cry at once. I loved this book and shared it with my older daughter and son. What a super read for summer, for family, friends or the classroom.
A great book.
Franny Parker, written by The Properties of Water author Hannah Roberts McKinnon, is about people living in ¿Two houses, side by side along the same bubbling river: one brimming with warm voices that spilled from its windows, one aching with a sadness that rippled from its shingled roof like rainwater.¿ Twelve year old Franny Parker lives in the house brimming with warm voices. Newcomer Lucas Dunn and his mother, Lindy, live in the house of sadness.At the beginning of the summer, when Lucas and Lindy move into the old cabin next door, it is instant crush for Franny. It seems like Lucas might feel the same, but Sidda, Franny¿s older sister, is trying to attract Lucas¿ attention. Things go smoothly for a little while, Franny nursing wounded animals back to health and Lucas working at the local Harland¿s Market. But unnerving things begin to happen. A black car arrives at the Dunn¿s cabin and neither Lucas nor Lindy are happy about it. Soon after, $3,000 is missing from Harland¿s. The once happy Dunns are now sad and distant. The Parkers¿ offers of assistance go unaccepted by Lucas and Lindy. McKinnon has such a beautiful way with words. The way she describes Oklahoma farm town life and its inhabitants, the countryside, the sadness when a farm burns down touch the reader. McKinnon¿s characters, such as gruff Grandma Rae and her posse of quilters, are colorful to say the least. Franny¿s caring parents and the Dunns are real. Readers will immediately like Franny and Lucas and Ben, Franny¿s younger brother. They¿ll love rural Oklahoma, both the idealized version as well as the hard-life version. Franny Parker is what every girl-next-door should be. I personally want to move into the Dunn¿s cabin and befriend her. For those of you old enough to remember The Waltons, consider the Parkers modern-day Waltons, quiet caring, quaint sayings, family-oriented, full of hope. For those of you too young to remember The Waltons, just sit down and enjoy are marvelous book.¿In the end, Lucas was right about plentiful seasons. Although that summer was one of the hardest, it was really the beginning. In me it added to the rings of my tree, the hope and the sadness, thbe trying and the giving up, and trying all over again. It filled me up, spilling into my branches, unfurling my leaves. My limbs tingled with the energy of it. And I grew.¿Like I said with The Properties of Water, Franny Parker might also be one of my 10 best for 2011 (even though it was written in 2009).
Through a hot, dry Oklahoma summer, twelve-year-old Franny tends wild animals brought by her neighbors, hears gossip during a weekly quilting bee, befriends a new neighbor who has some big secrets, and learns to hope.
Franny is a coming of age girl power book for all. I loved this little gem of a story. Set in OK Franny learns to stand up for herself, rescue wild animals, and fall in love for the first time with a troubled teen who needs her help. When his dark secret overpowers the idyllic nature of her growing up, Franny learns that she must ask for help and stand up for what she believes in. Suddenly she rescues not just the animals suffering the summer drought, but her family, her friend, and herself. This book contains some of the most beautiful and evocative prose I've read in a long time. I didn't want it to end. Lovely, lovely, lovely.
This is a beautiful story. I strongly reccomend it to upper elementary and middle school readers. It is about family, friendship, animals, adventure and is surprisingly full of suspense. It tackles a tough topic with class, and without being too graphic at all. It is hopeful and inspiring to the reader. I loved her characters and how carefully she crafted them. I laughed a lot, but it's a bit of a tear jerker, too. Franny was someone I'd love to call a friend.